Council's Lord's Prayer irks critics
Thu, November 23, 2006
Call them the prayer police.
They're on the hunt for Ontario cities, towns and villages that open their council meetings with the Lord's Prayer and they have 18 names on a hit list that will soon be in the hands of Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister John Gerretsen.
"If the human species is to survive, it is going to have to get rid of religion," said Secular Ontario president Henry Beissel, 77, a distinguished emeritus English professor from Concordia University who now lives in Ottawa. "People must accept that religion belongs in the home and church, not in public office or activity."
Beissel's group sent a letter to Gerretsen last week. They also sent correspondence to the 18 municipalities they discovered opened their meetings with "Our Father who is in heaven" by sifting through the on-line minutes of council meetings.
Beissel said municipalities like Peterborough, Napanee and Bancroft are breaking the law. He pointed to a 1996 Ontario Court of Appeal decision in the case of Freitag vs. Penetanguishine that found that reciting the Lord's Prayer before council meetings contravened the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Gerretsen's office referred queries to the department. An official said it was up to the minister to decide whether the government should reprimand the municipalities. The official said there was no policy on the matter and that the department interpreted the 1996 decision as specific to the situation in Penetanguishine.
"As mature and accountable local governments, it is their responsibility to look at all the laws and decisions to see whether they are applicable to them," said Peter John Sidebotton, manager of the municipal governance and structures branch.
Beissel said legal action against the municipalities was a possibility, but it was not something the group had discussed.
A Peterborough councillor said it was unlikely that city's council would stop reciting the Lord's Prayer.
"It is absolutely asinine," said Coun. Bill Juby. "This country was founded on Christian principles and our laws are based on Christian principles."